By EMMETT MCCALL
This weekend, high school football fans across the state will get their first taste of 'game' action in over eight months.
After opening practice earlier this week, teams will be allowed to scrimmage for the first time on Saturday.
All nine football teams in the TIMES NEWS coverage area have scrimmages set this weekend.
Headlining Saturday's card are two matchups that feature a pair of local teams from the Anthracite Football league taking on a couple of area teams that play in the Colonial League. The scrims will have Northern Lehigh traveling to Marian and Palmerton entertaining Panther Valley.
While its debateable how much, if anything, can be learned by watching an opening week scrimmage, that won't stop fans from getting excited or disappointed by their favorite team's performance on Saturday.
That is especially true in these two scrimmages since four area teams currently compete in the AFL and three area teams compete in the CL. Because of the closed regular season schedule in the Colonial League, the only opportunites for area fans to claim bragging rights for their favorite league are in the pre-season and post-season.
Both of the "all-local" scrimmages have some added intrigue this season.
The Northern Lehigh-Marian game features a Bulldog squad that has been the area's top team in recent seasons playing in the last three Disitrict 11 Class AA title games against a Colt team that is being touted as one of the top teams in the area this season.
Meanwhile, the Palmerton-Panther Valley scrimmage features former Bomber head coach Paul McArdle traveling back to Palmerton as a Panther Valley assistant coach. McArdle should see a number of familar faces on the Palmerton sideline since the current Bomber seniors were sophomore members of the varsity when McArdle last coached there.
Other scrimmages this week involving locals teams include Kutztown at Jim Thorpe, Tamaqua at Hamburg, Pleasant Valley at Bangor, Catasauqua at Lehighton, and Pottsville at Northwestern.
All of this Saturday's scrimmages involving area teams start at 10 a.m.
Unlike the opening week of practice where all scrimmages are Saturday, week two features Thursday and Friday scrimmages for area teams.
On Thursday, Northwestern is at Tamaqua (7 p.m.) and Palmerton is at Jim Thorpe (7 p.m.). On Friday, Lehighton visits Northern Lehigh (6 p.m.), Marian and Kutztown are at Catasauqua for a tr-scrimmage (6 p.m.), Pleasant Valley travels to Scranton Prep (10 a.m.), and Salisbury is at Panther Valley (6 p.m.).
When Lehighton and Northwestern opened practice on Monday they did so with new coaches.
For both Lehighton's Tom McCarroll and Northwestern Josh Snyder it will be their first-ever varsity head coaching jobs.
McCarroll takes over the Indian program after serving as an assistant coach at Catasauqua and Whitehall the past few years. McCarroll is a 1995 Marian High School graduate, who went on to play college football at Colgate University.
Meanwhile, Snyder, a 1998 Northwestern High School grad, is taking over at his alma mater after serving as an aassistant coach there for the past seven years. Snyder played college football at Lehigh University.
The two new coaches won't be the only difference you'll notice on the local football front this season. There are a couple of new football fields as well.
In recent years, no two schools had more trouble with the condition of their fields than Northern Lehigh and Jim Thorpe. Almost any rain at all turned those fields into mudbaths on a Friday night.
Both schools have taken steps to aliviate the problem this season.
Northern Lehigh decided to install artificial turf on its field. The Bulldogs join Pleasant Valley as the only two area schools with turf fields.
The Bulldogs will test out their new field in a week two scrimmage against Lehighton before officially unveiling the new turf when they host Southern Lehigh on the opening weekend of the regular season.
Jim Thorpe also considered adding artificial turf, but instead opted to completely dig up the old field, add a new drainage system, and then put down new grass. In order to accomplish that, the Olympians were forced to play all their games on the road last season, using Panther Valley as their home stadium.
Thorpe will get to test out its new field Saturday against Kutztown. The Olympians' first regular season game on the field is in week one against Tamaqua, although I guess the first real test for the field and drainage system will occur on the first rainy Friday of the football season.